ENGLISH VERSION: Two documents of HOCNA on the Name of God
Triumph of Orthodoxy is a feast called for in the present-day life of the Orthodox Church. Thus, the anathematisms of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy related to the heresy of Iconoclasm and the heresy of Barlaam and Akyndinos illuminated the major dogmatic discussion of the twentieth century, between the Name-Glorifyers and the Name-Fighters. This discussion still continues. We are publishing two beautiful documents issued from the Holy Orthodox Church in North America (HOCNA).
A Synopsis of the Patristic Teaching on the Name of God
We, the hierarchs of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America, provide the following resume of the patristic doctrine of the Name of God and do hereby declare that we hold these teachings unconditionally and without reservation.
It will become obvious from what follows that we wholly condemn, reject, and denounce “Name-worshipping”; rather, that we believe, confess, and espouse traditional Orthodox Christian teaching regarding the Name of God.
I. What the Church Rejects
The Holy Confessor Tikhon,Patriarch of Moscow, in his Encyclical of February 19, 1921, reaffirmed the full Orthodoxy of those who reject the following four points:
- That God’s Name is His Essence;
2. That God’s Name is separate from Him;
3. That God’s Name is another deity;
4. That the letters, sounds, and random or accidental thoughts about God are to be deified or used for magical purposes.
We, the hierarchs of the Holy Orthodox Church in North America, likewise wholly reject and condemn each of these points. If this is what “Name-worshippers” believe, then it is the very opposite of what we believe, confess, and teach. Rather, following in the steps of Saint Tikhon, we assert the following:
- That God’s Name is not His Essence;
2. That God’s Name is not separate from Him;
3. That God’s Name is not another deity;
4. That created letters, sounds, and random or accidental thoughts about God must not be deified. Moreover, that these letters must not be used for occult or magical purposes.
II. What the Church Teaches
Like every revelation of God in human speech, the Name of God has two aspects: the uncreated (the eternal Truth about God) and the created (the human words and concepts the Church has taught us to use in articulating the eternal Truth about God). The same can be said, for example, about the Holy Gospel: just as the uncreated Truth of the Holy Gospel possesses eternal existence whether or not it is written in the Book of Gospels, so too the eternal and uncreated Truth about God contained in His Name possesses eternal existence whether or not it is articulated in human language.
When the Scriptures and Fathers speak of the “Name of God” in the former sense (that is, in its uncreated aspect), they refer to it as a Power and Energy of God. Saint Clement of Rome (+100), for instance, affirms: “the Name of God gave existence to all creation.” The Shepherd of Hermas (c. 150), an ancient Christian document, states: “The Name of the Son of God is great and boundless, and upholds the entire universe.” Saint Cyril of Alexandria (+444) writes: “[Christ] says that His disciples ought to be kept in the Name of the Father, that is to say, in the Glory and Power of His Godhead.” Saint Basil of Ancyra (+363) told the pagan proconsul: “My chief name is ‘Christian,’ derived from ‘Christ,’ the Name that is eternal and beyond human understanding.” Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (+386) states, “The Name of God is in its nature holy, whether or not we say so.” Saint John Chrysostom (+407) likewise tells us, “The Name of God is worthy of praise by its very nature.” Saint Macarius of Corinth (+1805) also affirms: “The Name of God is by nature holy and supremely-holy, and the source of sanctification.” Saint John of Kronstadt draws all this together in these words: “When you pronounce to yourself in your heart the Name of God, of the Lord, or that of the Most Holy Trinity, or of the Lord of Sabaoth, or of the Lord Jesus Christ, then in that Name you have the Lord’s whole being; in it is His infinite mercy, His boundless wisdom, His inaccessible light, omnipotence, and immutability.”
Through these and many similar statements, the Church teaches us in a perfectly lucid manner that the uncreated Name of God – being the cause of creation, boundless, the glory of God, eternal and beyond human understanding, holy by nature, and the source of sanctification – is the Power and Energy of God, which is God Himself. For, as Saint Gregory Palamas states, “Every Power or Energy [of God] is God Himself.” The Hesychast Councils of the fourteenth century and the Synodicon of Orthodoxy affirm that both the Essence and the Energy of God are God Himself. This is why we Orthodox, alongside Saint Tikhon of Zadonsk and Saint John of Kronstadt, can confess that “The Name of God is God Himself,” since His Name is His Energy, and thus God Himself.
Conversely, because human language is created and temporal, being a part of this world, the created names of God (that is, the words and concepts we use to express His uncreated Name) are not His Energy and therefore must not be deified. Rather, the created names of God are verbal icons in which Divine Grace dwells, without however being God Himself. By venerating (but by no means rendering absolute worship to) these names, we reverence them because of the eternal Truth about God contained in them. In so doing, we follow the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, who declared (citing the words of Saint Leontius of Neapolis): “And as thou, when thy makest thy reverence to the Book of the Law [i.e., the Gospels], bowest down not to the substance of skins and ink, but to the sayings of God that are found therein, so I do reverence to the image of Christ. Not to the substance of wood and paint – that shall never happen!... But, by doing reverence to an inanimate image of Christ... I think to embrace Christ Himself and to do Him reverence.” We find the same thought in the words of Saint Gregory Palamas: “In addition to the saving image of the precious Cross, we venerate the divine churches and places as well as the sacred vessels and the divinely-transmitted Scriptures because of the God Who dwells in them.” Therefore, according to the God-bearing Fathers, just as we venerate the Cross, the Gospels, the holy icons, and other sacred liturgical objects to pay reverence to Christ, yet without deifying wood or paint, so too do we venerate the created names of God without deifying sounds and letters.
III. What Name–Fighters Teach
“Name-fighters” are those who reject the patristic doctrine of the Name of God by denying the uncreated aspect of the Name of God. This rejection makes it impossible for them to confess, along with the Holy Fathers, that the Name of God is His Energy and therefore God Himself. In so doing, they reduce the uncreated Name of God to the level of created words.
We maintain that the statements issued by Constantinople in 1912 and 1913, as well as by the so-called Russian Synod in 1913, are guilty of this diminution of the uncreated Name of God. They perpetually speak of God’s eternal Name as if it were a created object, not one revealed from on high. Moreover, by contending that God’s revealed Name is separate from Him – the very charge they falsely attributed to the monks of Mount Athos – they fall under their own condemnation. Finally, the 1913 epistle of the Russian Synod falls under the anathemas of the fourteenth-century Hesychast Councils and the Synodicon of Orthodoxy by falsely asserting that the Energies of God are not and cannot be called “God.”
Therefore, since these resolutions and pronouncements perpetuate dogmatic error, we cannot recognize them as possessing either doctrinal or canonical authority. No Orthodox Christians can accept, endorse, or perpetuate any of these false teachings.
IV. What Was the “Russian Synod”?
It is important to note that, contrary to popular misrepresentation, the “Russian Synod” that issued the above-mentioned epistle in 1913 was not in any sense a Church Council as understood by the Holy Canons. It was, rather, a purely bureaucratic institution, headed by a government-appointed layman, which functioned essentially as a department of religious affairs.
Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) himself described the Russian “Holy Synod” of his times in these scathing terms:
Our Church [in Russia] is governed by a layman, or, to put it officially, by a collegial institution never before seen by the Church of Christ… The [Russian] Church is deprived of its lawful head and is given over for enslavement to lay officials, who hide behind an assembly of six or seven hierarchs, who are changed every half-year, and two presbyters. Who is not aware that such an institution is uncanonical? It was not approved at its very inception by two Patriarchs; and even had it been approved by all four, this would only have demonstrated the unlawful action of the Patriarchs and not the canonicity of [Russian] Synodal rule, because no Patriarch can establish and authorize an institution that is unknown to Holy Orthodoxy and that was invented only to bring about weakness and decay.
Given that the decree issued by the Russian “Holy Synod” in 1913 is not doctrinally sound — and, moreover, that it was not issued by a proper Church Council — we cannot accept its decisions.
Our position is blatantly Orthodox and wholly consistent with the traditional teachings of the Holy Fathers of our Church. This we believe, this we proclaim, this we confess, and this we teach. We strive to follow, as did the Fathers of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, in the footsteps of the Holy Fathers.
Revised on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 2017.
+ Gregory, Metropolitan of Boston
+ Makarios, Metropolitan of Toronto
+ Ignatius, Metropolitan of Seattle
+ Ephraim, Retired Metropolitan of Boston
+ Andrew, Bishop of Markham
+ Chrysostomos, Bishop of Lanham
The second document of HOCNA can be downloaded here.